“Sindrome della capanna“, or “don’t-make-me-get-back-on-the-hamster-wheel syndrome”
Italy’s lockdown was very stringent. Nobody was supposed to leave their home except in cases of dire necessity, and the police prowled the streets making sure that people were following the rules.
Now that the country is getting its covid cases under control (this wave, at least), most of the lockdown measures have been lifted and people are out and about again, albeit cautiously.
I was talking to my friend Lucia in Italy the other day and asked her how she was finding the emergence from lockdown.
“I’m suffering from sindrome della capanna!” she told me.
“Ah, yes, when you go crazy from being indoors too long,” I said, thinking the expression meant “cabin fever”.
“No, quite the opposite,” she said. “It’s like when someone is released from prison and finds the world overwhelming.”
I googled the English equivalent but the best I could come up with was “post-lockdown anxiety”.
Lucia told me that she had discussed it with a friend of hers who was suffering from the same anxiety, and they realised that what they were really afraid of wasn’t leaving the house and emerging into the big, wide world. It wasn’t even a second wave of covid-19.
“We realised that what we’re really afraid of,” she said, “is going back to life as it was before.”
I think the temporary suspension of reality has shaken up a lot of people and made them realise that they don’t want to go back to life as it was before.
There has been talk about this among my colleagues too. We have been recalled to the office (in shifts, with masks, hand gel, social distancing and a stern-looking guy who points a gun-like object at your head as you cross the threshold to take your temperature. “Are you a reptile?” he asked me accusingly when my temperature read as 34.4°C, but it turned out the machine’s batteries were just flat). Having spent three months working from home and managing, for the most part, perfectly well with the arrangement, many of us are not clear on the reason for rushing to recolonise the office.
“I suspect it is a preparation for a return to ‘normal’,” one of my colleagues commented in an email discussion on the matter. “For my part, I have zero enthusiasm for going back to the work methods of before.”
I think when you’re in a routine you often don’t think much about your life; you just run mindlessly on the hamster wheel. It’s only when your routine is broken that you have a chance to step back and assess your life. At that point you might admit to yourself that it’s actually quite nice to be off the wheel and consider whether there are alternatives.
You have to seize the moment, though. As soon as you’re back on the wheel, you’ll forget you ever had these thoughts.